Last Updated on September 25, 2021
Paralympic archers discuss the sport’s mental health benefits
With the Tokyo Olympics done and dusted, three Paralympic medallists graced the indoor 12-metre archery range at Archery Fit. Each one drew and hooked their arrow with meticulous concentration and then took aim while the rest of us watched in silence. They made shooting an arrow with precision look so easy. John Stubbs, who has two Paralympic medals under his belt, shared that at the elite level, everyone can physically score the 10s with ease, the challenge is 95% mental. I must admit that although I logically understood what he was saying, I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of that statement until the end of the archery lesson.
After watching the Paralympians take their impressive shots, the spectating crowd were divided into two groups for an introduction to archery. Located in London’s Greenwich, Archery Fit is a high-quality indoor archery club open seven days a week committed to providing a unique scope of services and facilities for people of all ages, abilities, interests and tastes. 90-minute taster classes (priced at £30) are designed for beginners and coached in a group.
First, we were geared up with our bows which were named after Marvel superheroes, arrows and given arm guards and finger guards. Archery Fit has a six-year track record of no injuries, and they were very keen to keep it that way. Strict safety rules were imposed upon us such as no shooting until they say it’s ‘safe to shoot’, no collecting fallen arrows and no going in front of an archer even if the archer is across the room from you. Following a short warm-up, we were ready to learn the ropes of this sport.
Standing at the six-metre range, our instructor taught us how to hold the bow, hook our arrows and a three-step preparatory movement before releasing the arrow for shooting. He guided each of us in our initial two shots to make sure we had the right basic technique. Each of us was given four arrows, and after all the arrows were fired for that round, he gave us a rundown of our performance. Analyzing the target board, he gave each of us specific feedback on our personal shooting tendencies. My board had arrows that landed on the top half of the board, so the feedback for the next round was to aim lower than the bulls-eye to counter that personal tendency.
After that round, we were told to move back to the 12-metre point, and we received instructions on a five-step preparatory movement before releasing the arrow for shooting. The additional two steps were designed to make our shots more consistent and precise. He continued to analyze and feedback on our personal performance for each set of four arrows and give us adjustments to work on for the next set. Pretty soon, I was scoring a couple of 9s! In one round, we were told that we would be scored per arrow, and I performed terribly on this round. I was told by the instructor that competition stress got to me and he was vindicated when I scored 9s again in the subsequent rounds. I ended the lesson on a high, having done better than I expected and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Before leaving, I got to chat with each of the Paralympians about their experience with archery and how it helped with their mental health. Victoria Rumary, was a non-disabled archer until she suffered an infection following lifesaving surgery to relieve epileptic seizures, resulting in her becoming a wheelchair user. When I asked her about winning bronze in the Women’s Individual W1 at the Tokyo Paralympics, she told me it was completely unexpected. She said playing archery makes her feel empowered to do more of the things she used to do before becoming a wheelchair user.
Meanwhile, Phoebe Paterson Pine, having had spina bifida since birth, only knew life on a mobility device. This didn’t stop her from holding eight national records, four European records, three world records and winning gold in the Women’s Individual Compound Open at the Tokyo Paralympics. She said that archery helps her mind calm down whenever she feels emotionally out of control.
Finally, John Stubbs, a two-time Paralympic medallist lost his leg in a motorbike accident and graciously shared that he felt depressed in his early days and took up archery to take his mind off things. As a flag bearer at the Tokyo Paralympics Opening Ceremony, he is an example of how this sport doesn’t require a certain age or physique to get involved in.
All three Paralympians wholeheartedly endorse archery as an activity to help with mental health. Apparently, developing the mental focus in archery can be beneficial in other facets of life.
A dedicated resource launched by Archery GB about beginning archery, how to get involved in the sport and where to join a club.
Archery GB is the British body for all forms of archery in the UK. With over 750 clubs and 24,000 members, Archery GB is affiliated to World Archery, British Olympic Association & British Paralympic Association.
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